Zoning board to rule on variances for Canal Street North after marathon hearing

First impression of Julia Chapman, the new chair of the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment: she is a patient woman.

Chapman, a former aide to Mayor Michael Nutter in the early years of his administration and dating back to his days on City Council, replaced former chair Lynette Brown-Sow earlier this month. On Wednesday afternoon, she calmly presided over a hearing on the Canal Street North project that lasted four-and-a-half hours, more than twice as long as the calendar dictated.

Developer Michael Samschick of Core Realty is seeking a series of zoning variances for a proposed entertainment complex at the corner of Delaware and Frankford avenues, across the street from Sugarhouse Casino. The first phase of development includes a 3,000-person Live Nation concert venue, a distillery, and a Toby Keith honkytonk bar.

A small group of nearby neighbors, represented by attorney Paul Boni, are opposing the variances, partially out of the belief that the proposed uses are nightclubs and that they could mark a return to the bad old days in the 1990s of high crime and heavy traffic on Delaware Avenue.

All testimony concluded at 5 o’clock, but the board has yet to make a decision on whether to grant the variances.

Last fall, the Planning Commission approved a plan of development for the project, but stipulated that the developer needed to show that he controls at least 500 parking spaces for the complex. The neighbors who oppose the project say that’s still not enough parking.

Jethro Heiko, who was active in Casino-Free Philadelphia during the development of Sugarhouse, said he would like the existing Ajax building to be reused, but thinks the developer should construct residential units instead of nightclubs. The developer rejects the characterization that the concert venue and country-western bar are nightclubs.

The zoning code defines nightclubs as establishments “where 50 or more people regularly congregate primarily for entertainment purposes in the form of dancing or live or recorded music …”

Samschick said that Core had explored dozens of possible projects for the area, where it owns a series of properties, and concluded that the proposed complex, with the Live Nation venue as the “anchor tenant” attracting smaller retailers, is the most feasible project.

Fishtown Neighbors Association, a Registered Community Organization for the area, voted to approve the project 85-25, according to association representative Jordan Rushie. Among neighbors who live within 500 feet of the proposed project, Rushie said the vote was 14 in support to 8 opposed.

PlanPhilly will update when the zoning board makes its decision. 

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